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Matt Cassel: ‘Fresh start' with new team is best option for Mac Jones

Matt Cassel: ‘Fresh start' with new team is best option for Mac Jones originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

There's a chance we've seen Mac Jones throw his final pass as a quarterback for the New England Patriots. If that's the case, former NFL QB Matt Cassel believes that will be to the third-year signal-caller's benefit.

Amid an abysmal 2023 season, Jones was benched four times before finally losing his starting job to Bailey Zappe in Week 13. He amassed 2,120 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions and went 2-9 as New England's starter.

Jones could return to the field sometime in the final five weeks of the campaign but for now, his job is simply to be a good teammate. On Thursday's Patriots Pregame Live, Cassel recalled being in a similar situation during his playing career.

"I've been in that position when I was in Kansas City my last year," Cassel said. "We were going through struggles midseason and I was actually benched and they started Brady Quinn for a week and then he got hurt, I went back in and then got benched later on that year.

"It's tough, and it's tough for you mentally and you're looking at yourself, but I think it's all how you handle it as a person, how you handle it as a quarterback of the team. If you're sitting there moping around, guys don't want to come near you. But instead, you have to embrace the challenge and say, 'Look, guys, I'm still part of this team, I'm still a leader on this team despite that it hasn't gone the way that I've wanted it to.'

"So it's how you react and respond to those times of adversity, which is going to be important for Mac Jones because no one feels it more than Mac Jones. Nobody's more embarrassed about how it's gone than Mac Jones. You can play the 'what if' game all you want and you can feel sorry for yourself, but at the end of the day, that's not going to get you through the rest of this season and make you the best teammate that you can be."

After the Patriots' 10-6 loss to the New York Giants in Week 12, Jones was asked on WEEI whether he would prefer a fresh start at this stage of his career. The 2021 first-rounder shared the politically correct answer of wanting to remain the QB in New England, but Cassel sees a brighter future for Jones elsewhere.

"I think the best thing for Mac Jones at this point is a fresh start," Cassel said. "Sometimes, getting into a new organization, new faces, and everything that's gone on and transpired over these last years, especially this year being benched four times, the embarrassment of that, it'll be a fresh start for him.

"Because right now, you can tell when he goes out on the field, it's a confidence issue. He's looking over his shoulder, he's playing a little bit tight, he's trying not to force things. And all of a sudden, an interception might happen or something like that and he's going, 'Gosh, is this going to be the time Bailey Zappe comes in?' In addition to that, you also feel the presence of these fans and the media because it's a tough market to play in. ... For Mac Jones, I think a fresh start would benefit him moving on in the future."

Even if Jones isn't looking to start fresh with a new team, it appears the Patriots are ready to move on. They started Bailey Zappe under center again on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers and moved Jones down to No. 3 on the depth chart.

New England also is likely to be in a position to select one of the top quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft. With a 2-10 record entering Week 14, it currently owns the No. 2 overall selection.